DOC Proposes Jail Closures, Too

By Sarah Craighead 



Though the words prison and jail are often used interchangeably, in the case of local facilities they refer to two different places. The Downeast Correctional Facility (DCF) in Machiasport is a state prison used for long-term incarceration, and the Washington County Jail in Machias is run by the county and used for shorter-term incarceration. 

This week they have something more than geography in common—the state wants to close them both.

Days before Governor LePage ordered the removal of all inmates at DCF, Department of Corrections (DOC) Commissioner James Fitzpatrick proposed closing five county jails, including the Washington County Jail in Machias.

Washington County Sheriff Barry Curtis said it would be “disastrous” to close the Machias jail. “It would end up costing us, just the transportation costs alone to move our prisoners somewhere else,” said Curtis, “ and I would have to lay off 35 people.”

Jail administrator Rich Rolfe said the DOC’s proposal overlooks significant costs that closing the jail would place on local police departments. “If Baileyville has one officer on at the time [of an arrest], that officer now has to go to a regional jail somewhere between Hancock and Penobscot county, that town is now uncovered,” said Rolfe. “They have to rely on a deputy or trooper or they have to call an officer in on overtime.” 

Rolfe and Curtis said closing the jail would be especially difficult for towns on the eastern side of Washington County, who would have the longest drive to reach an as-yet-unnamed facility in Hancock or Penobscot county. 

“What about public safety?” said Chief Deputy Michael Crabtree. “What if [an officer] thinks ‘This person should go to jail, but I’m just going to give him a summons, because we can’t afford six hours round trip to get this person to jail.’”  

Sen. Joyce Maker said she also opposes the proposed closure. 

 “We have to think about the cost to this county when they have to start sending police officers two hours to go to jail,” said Maker. “And then if they go to court, then you have to go get them and bring them back. Are they planning to close the courts, too?”

 Though no public hearing has yet been scheduled, Rep. Will Tuell (R-E.Machias) confirmed the DOC plans to present its proposal to the criminal justice and public safety committee on Thursday, Feb. 15. in Augusta at 3 p.m. Sheriff Curtis and other members of the Sheriff’s office and jail management will be in attendance.

The other county jails being considered for closure are Androscoggin, Franklin, Oxford and Piscatiquis.